For the second time this year, anti-gay group Westboro Baptist Church is planning to come to Canada to stage a protest, and people want to put a stop to it.
Every time this sort of controversy comes up in the news, I have to stop and consider it carefully. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 2) guarantees us the following basic rights:
- freedom of conscience and religion;
- freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
- freedom of peaceful assembly; and
- freedom of association
At the same time, however, we also have legislation in place to protect people from hate-crimes and hate-speech. So the question is, do anti-gay groups like the Westboro Baptist Church violate this anti-hate legislation? And regardless of this first question, are we violating their rights to freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, and freedom of association? Freedom of peaceful assembly is a separate issue—whether or not this group is “peaceful” is subject to debate altogether, and I would probably say that they are not.
I like to pride myself in being open-minded enough to truly believe in free speech for everyone, even if I think they are idiots. Yes, I will fight for your right to say something, even if I disagree with what you want to say. Yet when we enter controversial territory where the freedom of expression can be abused in order to hurt other people this admirable sentiment is put to the test.
So my answer is no, this group should not be allowed entry to Canada. Their goals and actions are appalling. I understand that some people find homosexuality morally objectionable. I even understand if some people believe that gay people’s souls are in peril of eternal damnation and they should repent now to be saved (I don’t believe that, but I can understand how others might). However, there is a large gap between holding an anti-gay opinion and inciting hatred of gays.
If you did not follow the link at the beginning of this post, stop now to read the article or at least look at the included image. Check out the signs that the leader of the group was carrying at a protest in 1999—look at the one on the right: “God hates fags.”
I did go to church as a child, and that’s not the Christianity I was taught. I’ve been under this impression that the Christian God loves everyone, and that if one repents, one will be saved.
Theocratical dogma on homosexuality aside, consider how this reflects one’s religion! Islam has often received criticism as of late because of the actions of a minority, those radicals who form Muslim terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. That is a concrete example of how the actions of a minority can harm the reputation of the entire religion. Likewise, Fred Phelps’ church shames his religion. I’m well aware that Christianity in general does not burn people at the stake anymore, but if all I knew about it came from that article and that disturbing image, I might jump to that conclusion.
Returning the sign for a moment, notice the pejorative term for gays. This is exactly the same as the dehumanising labels applied to minorities we oppressed and hated throughout history—some of which are still regarded with such shame and disdain that they are not repeated on television before the watershed hour. We pride ourselves so often on having “moved forward” and having put racism, anti-Semitism, and the like behind us, closing those chapters and contenting ourselves to teach them in history classes with various degrees of accuracy.
We haven’t moved forward. We’ve just switched targets for the time being, like a bored kid with BB gun.
We haven’t moved forward, and we won’t move forward until we stop trying to make people feel ashamed of who they are, until we stop teaching other people that it’s OK to hate somebody simply because they are different from oneself. ’Cause guess what? You are different from them. And what if they started oppressing you? Yeah, you wouldn’t like that too much, eh?
Sadly, those people who believe that inciting hatred is fine tend to do it because they believe they have some form of objective justice on their side (usually “God”, but sometimes it’s just personal conviction). They believe that they can do it to other people because they are right and others are wrong. And that’s the point where a government should step in, to protect innocent people from those would abuse our great freedoms for ignominious ends.